Ask Design Mom Week — Family Pictures

What is your advice for taking a great family picture? (Note: I do not wish to have a statuesque portrait of my toddler and newborn in khaki and white on the beach — this is a real family picture. So lets keep it real.) Thanks. — Leslie

Loving all these questions! And this is no exception, Leslie. We should probably turn to a photographer to answer this one, but I’ll do my best.

1) Take the time to find a great photographer. Look through portfolios. Keep your eye open for someone who’s style you like. I love my family photos by Candace Stringham. I love Jared & Liz’s family photos by Jonathon Canlas. I love my portrait by Justin Hackworth. And I love Nie’s family photos by Blue Lily. But all have very different styles.

2) Once you’ve scheduled a date with a photographer, take some time to think about what you want. Talk over your ideas and plans with the photographer. Or look to them for guidance. You may want to discuss whether or not you need a photo stylist. Here’s a post I wrote about getting ready for our Central Park photo shoot.

3) As far as family photo trends go, this is what I’ve observed: 10 or 15 years ago it was all about matching denim shirts. (Awesome!) Then. DSLR cameras became more affodrable and thus widespread. Suddenly, everyone was a photographer. And family photos trended to candid, up close shots — photographed by your best friend or neighbor. What’s happening now? A more editorial style — as if the family photo is being shot for your favorite magazine.

My main advice for right this minute: feel free to pick a color scheme, but you don’t need to wear matching shirts. Unless you’re going for this look. Which is admittedly rad (I’m #7).

What about you, Dear Readers? What do you do to ensure great family photos?

20 thoughts on “Ask Design Mom Week — Family Pictures”

  1. i just discovered your lovely blog while searching online for a toddler bed!(;
    though i often love seeing people have direct eye-contact with the camera, what often moves me as a viewer when looking at family portraits is the caught interaction among the family members themselves.
    in my opinion, as far as clothing…unless you're a stylist at heart, less fussy, less wrinkly, and medium shades or darker clothing seems to work best.

  2. My fave photographers all live in other states. I wish I could take my own family portrait.
    My advise: get your photos taken earlier rather than later if you want them for a Holiday card.

  3. My advice is to chill out and relax! So many parents get all stressed and fussy about pictures and in turn, the kids feel the stress and freak out and don't cooperate. I've found that when parents of the children I photograph stay out of it and just let their kids be themselves, I often get amazing pictures. That means don't tell them to look and smile! And if you have a good photographer, they will be able to direct your kids when needed, which tends to work better for all involved.

  4. Thanks for including me in your list of photographers. I like Morgan's advice to relax and let kids be kids. That way, everyone has a far better time and in the end, the photographs are more authentic.

  5. I'm glad you mentioned Jon Canlas. He did our wedding and first official family pictures after our twins were born. I love his style but most of all the way he helped us to relax and remember that we all love each other! So I would say find a photographer like that!;)

  6. we love natural light & found an amazing photographer who captured our children's personalities perfectly, in beautiful natural light. we don't do "matchy" and when choosing their outfits, we picked things that they love to wear. believe me, it made for great pictures because both girls felt comfortable and happy in their clothes. and i agree on chilling out and relaxing – it's supposed to be fun!

    this was our "preview". check her site out. she is truly inspiring:

  7. I agree with Morgan on parents needing to chill out! As a photograhper, I like to instruct my clients to think about where they will hang their wall portraits. If your family room has warm tones, do you think you'll want to hang a colorful picture in brights? How will it fit in the color scheme? I love your colors, very fun and vibrant!

  8. Thanks for the shout-out, Gabrielle. I agree with what others have said- especially about how the main goal should be to show the family's dynamic rather than to have everyone looking the same direction.

    If anyone out there needs a great What to wear guide for portraits, we at Blue Lily made one and you can email us at to get a copy!

    wendy +tyler
    blue lily photo

  9. What a beautiful family you have! I remember holding your baby–was it Ralph?–when you and Ben gave the Rex-n-Janet Lee-esque address to the Bean Society. Good times. Tell Ben 'hi.' I love your blog.

  10. Great suggestions!

    If I might, I'd like to add to the discussion for those who can't afford (or don't want to spend so much on..) a custom sitting with a Chi-chi-fru-fru photographer.

    I'm working on developing my own Chi-chi-fru-fru photography business myself – so I'm certainly not knocking it!!

    but for the time being I fulfill my dream by working at one of those dept store portrait studios (think Tar-jay)

    I just want people to know that you CAN get beautiful pictures at some of these places – not all of them – but some – are lucky to have very talented photographers.

    The downside is that for the holiday season, we are expected to get you in and out of the camera room in 15 minutes. (I know… frustrating for us too… believe me)
    so tip no. 1 is repeated here – CHILL OUT! Your kids feed off your energy and anxious, crying children do not take beautiful pictures.
    Along with chill out – please don't coach your kid on how to smile. Do that at home, before the appointment – then in the studio – forget your expectations for a perfect smile. I've noticed that 4-6 year olds aren't sure what to do (boys up to age 10!!)– and tend to produce an uncomfortable grimace or fake smile. Don't try to coach them out of their 'fake smile' during the session – that will just make them try too hard. Relax. The photographer will do their best to make them smile and laugh.
    And if all you get is the 'fake smile' – just know – that's what your kid looked like at age three. We've still captured him!

    no 2
    Don't hover. Let the photographer be in charge.
    If we're shooting a family picture – trying to get a winner or two or three in 15 minutes – mom and dad and the kids that are capable of it need to look at the camera – don't worry – I'm concentrating on the babies and toddlers. But when I finally get the baby to smile and mom or dad are looking down at the baby with a worried expression – it just ruined the shot. (RELAX!) (remember, I have to get this in 30 frames – you don't want to ruin one!)

    no 3 discuss your style, tastes, expectations with the photographer. If you don't like props – we don't want to use them. If you do, we will. Hate that wooden chair? Tell us – we'll come up with something else!

    You can tell us that you don't want the family picture to be 'too posed' but still allow us to arrange your positions for a nicely composed shot. then Relax! "Posed" and "Composed" are two different things. Trust us to know what looks good.

    and preliminarily, scout out the studio. Stop by on a weekday/weeknight before you book the appointment and chat with the photographer on duty. (this is when they are least busy – weekends are hectic) If they're talented, they'll be happy to show you recent examples. Gushing even! Find out when they are working and book the appointment for their shift. if that's not possible, ask them who else is really good.

    It's true, we get some doozies in there because we often have to hire students and part-time help – particularly for the holidays… but you can be the judge. Ask for who you want – we'll do our best to accomodate you.

    And after all that – feel free to spend some money! It's just a fraction of what a custom session would be – and even though we hate the fact that it's all about sales – it still is. If I was just a superhero in the 15-20 minute session – giving me a decent sale is the reward. We're only talking $100 – after all!

  11. I've no photography advice…but I HAD to comment on this family photo. Absolutely brilliant!!! Brilliant. Great question and great answers (inspiring me to get a family photo going.)

  12. Any suggestions of good ideas for holiday cards? We always go with Shutterfly because we have a giant family and its cheap but it would be cool to do something more creative this year (still economical though…)


  13. I know I'm a little late commenting on this but…you can look for aspiring photographers or students looking to expand their portfolio. Usually they will do a shoot for very inexpensive or even free. That way you're helping them out and they're helping you out. Usually they are really good photographers and it's easier to tell them what you want (some seasoned photographers have certain ideas about what photos should look like and wont want to try something new.)

  14. Pingback: Taking Family Photos « Behind The Scenes « Cluster Art

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